Copy protection still a hot topic
by Alan Zisman
(c) 2000. First
published in Toronto Computes,
Let?s start off with a bit of personal computer
history lesson. Back
to the days, 15 years or so ago, when DOS reigned supreme in the
WordStar was the biggest word processor. Lotus 1-2-3
the hottest business application.
And of course, there were games. Maybe not games as we
know them today,
but lots of computer games, none the less. Text-adventure games like
Guide to the Galaxy or crude graphic games like the first King?s Quest.
And there was software piracy. Wordstar had released a
suggesting that for every copy legally purchased, there were four
copies floating around. While the methodology of the study was at best
questionable, there were no doubt, a lot of floppies being copied.
The industry?s response was copy protection. Different
into different copy protection schemes?some using floppies with holes
out at precise locations, others using somewhat more sophisticated
When you installed Lotus 1-2-3 onto your hard disk, it wrote a code to
the floppy?after that, you couldn?t use that floppy to install onto any
other hard drives, unless you first used a utility on the floppy to
the first hard drive installation. Heaven help you if your hard drive
couldn?t easily reinstall the program onto a replacement hard drive.
Of course, copy protection schemes were just the thing
to get some people
going to find a way to beat the system?and soon enough, BBSs (think the
era?s amateur equivalent of the Net) were filled with files allowing
in the know to work around various copy protection schemes. And some
made their mark selling utilities allowing the copying of any disk?even
copy protected, presumably un-copyable ones. Software companies selling
copy-protected software fumed, but the makers of products like
(Central Point Software, later to become better known for products like
PC Tools before they were bought up by Symantec) swore up and down that
they were filling a genuine need, and if a few users used their product
in violation of copyright, it wasn?t their fault?the program did start
up reminding users to only use it in a legal manner?wink, wink, nudge,
Eventually, the use of copy protection pretty much
died out?at least
for mass market products sold in North America. Some legitimate
producers found that when their competitors were copy protected, there
was a market for a non-protected product?more convenient for the users,
and proof that ?we? trust ?you?. Borland was able to sell enough copies
of its non-protected Quattro spreadsheet that eventually Lotus gave up
copy- protecting 1-2-3.
But in non-North American markets, copy-protection
hung on for a while
longer. It seemed that ?we? didn?t quite trust ?them?. And even in
America, niche market software often remained protected?software aimed
at musicians, for example.
Games sometimes got other forms of protection? hard to
copy codes, for
example. Some games started up asking a trivia question, with the
on a specific page of the manual. To pirate the game, you needed to
photocopy the whole manual. And even that might not help. The first
of SimCity I owned came with a long list of codes, printed in purple
on dark brown paper?which photocopied as black on black. Ouch!
What really killed copy protection, though, was CDs.
As software got
bigger, it was no longer practical to ship it on floppy diskettes. And
everyone knows that CDs are read-only, right? As a result, for the last
5 years or so, the issue of copy protection has pretty much faded away.
Until now, that is.
CD-burners are hot sellers, with blank disks selling
for more or less
$2 each in packages of 10 or even 50 or 100. Once again, copying
may start up with a little reminder that users should not be using it
violate copyright. But once again, who are we trying to kid? Some users
are making legitimate copies of, say, freely copyable software like
or of music that they?ve personally created. But a lot more blank CDs
being sold than that!
Enter copy protection (once again).
For instance, Macrovision?s SafeDisc, which the
company claims is ?effective
against both consumer copiers and professional pirates?SafeDisc thwarts
attempts to use CD-recordable drives and other devices to make useable
copies of CD-ROMs?. In fact, the company claims it even ?thwarts
by consumers to use unauthorized copies downloaded via the Internet?.
The company has a decade?s experience providing copy
rental videotapes. It claims that its technology will ?thwart
hackers and commercial pirates?. (They seem to like that word,
Suddenly, CD copy protection is showing up on a
variety of software
aimed at consumers?products ranging from Microsoft?s Encarta Suite to
Need for Speed High Stakes.
I?m not surprised at history repeating itself once
again. If your blank
CD turns into a toaster when you tried to copy a game, well, don?t say
you weren?t warned!